Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith

I’ve been hard at work on the job search the last few days, so I thought I’d take a break tonight and write about Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith.

The cover of Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith. Art by The Heads of State.

For the uninitiated (including me until a few weeks ago), Seth Grahame-Smith is the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This is his third book featuring a classic story with a twist this time starring the Three Wise Men of the New Testament.

Before I say anything else, I need to clarify a few things about this book. The title, Unholy Night, is only an attention grabber, nothing more. Nowhere in the book does Seth make claims that Christ isn’t Christ, and the book’s story makes clear that there is a greater power protecting the child. Second, while it is an enjoyable read, the story is actually very serious. Most of the humor in the book is dark, and there are some exquisitely detailed descriptions of violence throughout.

That being said, the basic premise of the book is: “What if the three wise men weren’t really wise men at all? Who would they be?” Seth’s answer is a group of thieves and cutthroats who take refuge in the Bethlehem manger while on the run from the Judean army. After knocking poor Joseph around a bit, the three wise guys decide the new parents are a couple of crazy zealots. But the thieves soon find that Mary and Joseph share their enemy in Herod, and the trio chooses to protect Mary, Joseph, and their baby after Herod’s men slaughter the newborn children in Bethlehem. But protecting the child turns out to be more trouble then they expect, and the three thieves may not be so noble.

What results is a fun, and very well-written adventure story that centers around the thief Balthazar, notoriously known as the Antioch Ghost, and his struggles in coming to terms with his past while protecting the newborn Jesus. Balthazar’s story is solid, and told with a great sense of action and setting as he deals with his demons and comes to terms with his fate of being the guardian of Christ. Unfortunately, Gaspar and Melchyor, who you think would be pretty important characters, are very flat and they get lost in all of the plot complexities that occur as the group is traveling toward Egypt. Their ultimate fate is only revealed at the end of the book, and that fate is tacky at best. But Balthazar’s story, and the struggles the group faces trying to keep Christ out of Judean and Roman hands was more than enough to keep me coming back for more.

Unholy Night is a great adventure book that is definitely worth the time of anyone interested. The prose is spot-on, and matches the story’s tone perfectly. Even though Melchyor and Gaspar disappoint, Balthazar, Mary, and Sela (Balthazar’s love interest), are all endearing characters. So if you like some mayhem with your Christianity, check it out! And in the meantime, it has a great book trailer!

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